Q&A With Sarah Stewart Taylor

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Q&A With Sarah Stewart Taylor

I have the pleasure of doing this Q&A with the mystery author of the Sweeney St. George & Maggie D’arcy series. In the past she has worked as a journalist and writing teacher. Her upcoming new book is the first in a new historical mystery series titled Agony Hill. 

Q: Sarah, would you please tell the readers of the blog and I a little bit about Agony Hill? Where did the idea for the story come from?

A: Agony Hill is set in the hot summer of 1965 when Bostonian Franklin Warren arrives in the small town of Bethany, Vermont to take a job as a detective with the state police. Almost immediately, he’s called up to a suspicious fire on Agony Hill. Former New Yorker and Back-to-the-Lander Hugh Weber seems to have set fire to his barn and himself, with the door barred from the inside, but things aren’t adding up for Warren. As he gets to know his new neighbors, Warren finds that almost everyone had reason to want Weber dead. 

I loved writing about Warren and I also loved writing about Sylvie Weber, the farmer’s enigmatic widow. Warren’s next-door neighbor Alice Bellows, a widow with a mysterious past and a penchant for solving mysteries, might be one of my favorite characters I’ve ever invented! 

I live in Vermont, right on the border with New Hampshire and when I was working as a journalist, I wrote a lot of stories about how the 1960s were a period of intense transition in our region. The interstate highway system brought faster roads and new people. A whole bunch of changes to agriculture, political representation in Vermont’s legislature, and the education system, not to mention Vietnam and the Cold War, really made it a time of great upheaval. I wanted to explore a town and the people who live in it during this period of transition. 

Q: I love reading mysteries just like you enjoy writing them! Out of all the genres to write, what made you choose to write in the mystery genre? 

A: I love mysteries so much. I love how they allow you to explore characters under intense circumstances and pressure and I love how they present a question at the beginning of the novel and then answer it by the end. I read a lot of mysteries and I still love that feeling of not being able to stop reading until you’ve figured out what happened and why! 

Q: What is your advice to anyone wanting to write mysteries?

A: I think it’s important to be a reader — and a reader of mysteries, so you understand some of the conventions, even if you plan to break them. Beyond that, my advice is the same as it is for writers of any genre. Write! It sounds so silly, but every author of a published book sat in a chair for many, many, many hours and just . . . wrote down a lot of words then deleted them and wrote lots more. Not everyone can do it or likes doing it. The only way to find out is to try and see what happens.  

Q: You were a journalist for a brief period. Would you say that your time as a journalist helped in your research & writing skills? 

A: Absolutely. I know how to find information and I know how to talk to people. I also think that being a journalist exposed me to a wide variety of people and circumstances and gave me a lifetime store of ideas for books. 

Q: Are you currently writing your next novel? If it’s not too early, can you say what it’s about?

A:Yes! I’m working on the follow-up to Agony Hill. I can’t say too much yet, but it’s set on the opening weekend of hunting season in 1965 and it brings back Franklin Warren and his neighbor Alice Bellows and a lot of the other characters from Agony Hill. 

Q: Does Hollywood currently have the rights to your work? We need originality again and not remakes, reboots, prequels, sequels and spinoffs. 

A: I agree! I have had a few expressions of interest but nothing that has panned out so far. I got some very good advice a long time ago, which was that the chances of a book actually making it to the big or small screen are so infinitesimal that it’s a waste of time thinking about it. If it happens, that’s wonderful, but it probably won’t. So just keep writing books.